2024 vs 1984

After looking back at the unified election map from 1984 and griping about advertising again, I arrived this week on their intersection: Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial introducing the Macintosh. It launched not only the home-computer revolution but also the Super Bowl advertising frenzy and phenomenon.

The commercial burned itself right into my brain and everyone else’s who saw it. It was something truly different during something completely routine, stark innovation cutting through the middle of tightly-held tradition. I wasn’t old enough to understand the Orwell references, including the concept of Big Brother, but I got the meaning immediately: The underdog was now armed with something more powerful than the establishment. Apple was going to help us win.

Apple has of course become the biggest company in the world in the past 40 years, but reclaiming the dominant metaphors of a given time is an act of magical resistance. Feigning immunity from advertising isn’t a solution, it provides a deeper diagnosis of the problem. Appropriating language, mining affordances, misusing technology and other cultural artifacts create the space for resistance not only to exist but to thrive. Aggressively defying the metaphors of control, the anarchist poet Hakim Bey termed the extreme version of these appropriations “poetic terrorism.” He wrote,

The audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by [poetic terrorism] ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror—powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst—no matter whether the [poetic terrorism] is aimed at one person or many, no matter whether it is “signed” or anonymous, if it does not change someone’s life (aside from the artist) it fails.

Echoing Bey, the artist Konrad Becker suggests that dominant metaphors are in place to maintain control, writing,

The development in electronic communication and digital media allows for a global telepresence of values and behavioral norms and provides increasing possibilities of controlling public opinion by accelerating the flow of persuasive communication. Information is increasingly indistinguishable from propaganda, defined as “the manipulation of symbols as a means of influencing attitudes.” Whoever controls the metaphors controls thought.

In a much broader sense, so-called “culture jamming,” is any attempt to reclaim the dominant metaphors from the media. Gareth Branwyn writes, “In our wired age, the media has become a great amplifier for acts of poetic terrorism and culture jamming. A well-crafted media hoax or report of a prank uploaded to the Internet can quickly gain a life of its own.” Culture jammers, using tactics as simple as modifying phrases on billboards and as extensive as impersonating leaders of industry on major media outlets, expose the ways in which corporate and political interests manipulate the masses via the media. In the spirit of the Situationists International, culture jammers employ any creative crime that can disrupt the dominant narrative of the spectacle and devalue its currency.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
— George Orwell, 1984

“It’s clearly an allegory. Most commercials aren’t allegorical,” OG Macintosh engineer Andy Hertzfeld says of Apple’s “1984” commercial. “I’ve always looked at each commercial as a film, as a little filmlet,” says the director Ridley Scott. Fresh off of directing Blade Runner, which is based on a book he infamously claims never to have read, he adds, “From a filmic point of view, it was terrific, and I knew exactly how to do a kind of pastiche on what 1984 maybe was like in dramatic terms rather than factual terms.”

David Hoffman once summarized Orwell’s 1984, writing that “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” As the surveillance has expanded from mounted cameras to wireless taps (what Scott calls, “good dramatic bullshit”; cf. Orwell’s “Big Brother”), hackers have evolved from phone phreaking to secret leaking. It’s a ratcheting up of tactics and attacks on both sides. Andy Greenberg quotes Hunter S. Thompson, saying that the weird are turning pro. It’s a thought that evokes the last line of Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown which, after deftly chronicling the early history of computer hacker activity, investigation, and incarceration, states ominously, “It is the End of the Amateurs.”

These quips could be applied to either side.

The Hacker Ethic—as popularized by Steven Levy’s Hackers (Anchor, 1984)—states that access to computers “and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works should be unlimited and total” (p. 40). Hackers seek to understand, not to undermine. And they tolerate no constraints. Tactical media, so-called to avoid the semiotic baggage of related labels, exploits the asymmetry of knowledge gained via hacking. In a passage that reads like recent events, purveyor of the term, Geert Lovink writes, “Tactical networks are all about an imaginary exchange of concepts outbidding and overlaying each other. Necessary illusions. What circulates are models and rumors, arguments and experiences of how to organize cultural and political activities, get projects financed, infrastructure up and running and create informal networks of trust which make living in Babylon bearable.”

If you want a picture of the future now, imagine a sledgehammer shattering a screen—forever.

Following Matt Blaze, Neal Stephenson states “it’s best in the long run, for all concerned, if vulnerabilities are exposed in public.” Informal groups of information insurgents like the crews behind Wikileaks and Anonymous keep open tabs on the powers that would be. Again, hackers are easy to defend when they’re on your side. Wires may be wormholes, as Stephenson says, but that can be dangerous when they flow both ways. Once you get locked out of all your accounts and the contents of your hard drive end up on the wrong screen, hackers aren’t your friends anymore, academic or otherwise.

Hackers of every kind behave as if they understand that “[p]ostmodernity is no longer a strategy or style, it is the natural condition of today’s network society,” as Lovink puts it. In a hyper-connected world, disconnection is power. The ability to become untraceable is the ability to become invisible. We need to unite and become hackers ourselves now more than ever against what Kevin DeLuca calls the acronyms of the apocalypse (e.g., WTO, NAFTA, GATT, etc.). The original Hacker Ethic isn’t enough. We need more of those nameless nerds, nodes in undulating networks of cyber disobedience. “Information moves, or we move to it,” writes Stephenson, like a hacker motto of “digital micro-politics.” Hackers need to appear, swarm, attack, and then disappear again into the dark fiber of the Deep Web.

Who was it that said Orwell was 40 years off? Lovink continues: “The world is crazy enough. There is not much reason to opt for the illusion.” It only takes a generation for the underdog to become the overlord. Sledgehammers and screens notwithstanding, we still need to watch the ones watching us.


Understanding Mediocre

A new year typically brings renewal and hope. I will admit to struggling to find it in these first couple of weeks of 2024. There are too many things we need to get out from under first. Satisficing, the resigning oneself to the first workable option as sufficient (the word itself a workable but unwieldy portmanteau of “satisfy” and “suffice”), is often considered a good thing, saving one from the needless pursuit of an elusive better or optimal solution. Too much of this good thing leads to the same old thing.

After writing about unintended outcomes and technology not solving problems a few weeks ago, I seem to have closed something else off. Now those unintended outcomes are all I see. Greatness is never achieved through satisficing. The road to mediocrity is paved with just good enough. Now more than ever, we need more than that.

There’s a story under there somewhere, I think.
When you watch a video clip on YouTube, it is typically preceded (and often interrupted) by some sort of advertising. They give you a countdown clock to when the ad is over or to when you can click “skip” and get on with your initial purpose. The very existence of this click-clock indicates that the people at YouTube know that you don’t want to see the ad(s) on their site! They’ve been cracking down on plug-ins to block such ads, and they along with other such “services” offer premium packages where you can eschew all ads for an additional monthly fee (Gee, thanks!).

I mentioned direct mail in the preamble to my previous list, writing that a successful direct-mail advertising campaign has a response rate of 2% and what a waste that is for all involved (98%!). How much mail do you recycle compared to actual mail and written correspondence? Mail seems like an antiquated example, until you go online.

It’s global, yet it’s local.
It’s the next thing in Social.
Hip-hop, rockin’, or microbloggin’ —
You get updates every time you log in.
So, come on in, we’re open,
And we’re hopin’ to rope in
All your Facebook friends and Twitter memories.
There’s a brand-new place for all of your frenemies.
You don’t really care about piracy or privacy.
You just want music and friends as far as the eye can see.
So, sign up, sign in, put in your information.
It’s the new online destination for a bored, boring nation.
Tell your friends, your sister, and your mom.
It’s time for justgoodenough.com

When you log into Instagram and check your notifications (or your other accounts or even your email), how many of them are from people you follow and how many are from spam accounts? Mine are fairly even. That is, I spend as much time on these platforms deleting junk as I do “interacting” with friends and colleagues. I’m sure you have similar experiences.

Where is the break boundary? Where is the point when enough of us have had enough to actually ditch these platforms? I abandon my accounts every other month. None of them are essential after all. YouTube and Instagram are toys at best, amusements for brains trained to seek such tiny nuggets of validation and entertainment, but these same inconvenient priorities spill over into things that do matter. All noise and very little signal. All soggy vegetables and very little pudding.

We’re starving, but… Everything is okay.

Everything is just okay. And it won’t get better until we all demand something else. It won’t get better until we stop satisficing and give each other more of what we want and less of what they want us to have.

Idea, Reality, Lesson: A Year-End List

Unintended outcomes are the furniture of our uncertain age. Decades of short-term thinking, election cycles, and bottom lines assessed quarterly have wound us into a loop we can’t unwind. In addition, our technologies have coopted our desires in ways we didn’t foresee. The internet promised us diversity and gave us division. Social media promised to bring us together, instead it fomented frustration and rage between friends and among family. We know the net result is bad, but we won’t abandon these poisonous platforms.

As straw-person an argument as it might be, direct mail is my favorite example. Successful direct-mail advertising has a return rate of 2%. That means that in a successful campaign, 98% of the effort is wasted. In any other field, if 98% of what you’re doing is ineffective, you would scrap it and start over.

I’ve been thinking about case studies of ineffective efforts and unintended outcomes, and I came up with five for your consideration — IRL: Idea, Reality, Lesson.

“Shadow Play,” Sharpie on paper, 2005.

Idea: AI as a tool for creativity.
Reality: Training large-language models (and the other software that currently pass as artificial intelligence) to be “creative” requires the unpaid labor of many writers and artists, potentially violating copyright laws, relegating the creative class to the service of the machines and the people who use them.
Lesson: Every leap in technology’s evolution has winners and losers.

Idea: Self-driving cars will solve our transportation problems.
Reality: Now you can be stuck in traffic without even having to drive.
Lesson: We don’t need more cars with fewer drivers. We need fewer cars with more people in them.

Idea: Put unused resources to use.
Reality: The underlying concept of companies like Uber and AirBnB—taking unused resources (e.g., vehicles, rooms, houses, etc.) and redistributing them to others in need—is brilliant and needed in our age of abundance and disparity. Instead of using what’s there, a boutique industry of rental car partnerships for ride-share drivers and homes bought specifically for use as AirBnB rentals sprung up around these app-enabled services. Those are fine, but they don’t solve the problem the original idea set out to leverage.
Lesson: You cannot disrupt capitalism. Ultimately, it eats everything.

Idea: Content is King.
Reality: When you can call yourself a “Digital Content Creator” just because you have a front-facing camera on your phone, then content is the lowest form. To stay with the analogy, Content is a peasant at best. Getting it out there is King. Getting and maintaining people’s attention is Queen.
Lesson: Distribution and Attention are the real monarchy.

Idea: Print is dead.
Reality: People have been claiming the death of print since the dawn of the web—over 30 years now—and it’s still patently untrue. Print is different, but it’s far from dead. Books abound! People who say this don’t read them anyway. Just because they want synopses and summaries instead of leisurely long reads doesn’t mean that everyone wants that.
Lesson: Never underestimate people’s appetite for excuses.

If more of what you’re doing is wasteful rather than effective, then you should rethink what you’re doing. Attitudes about technology are often incongruent with their realities, and the way we talk about its evolution matters. Moreover, while many recent innovations seem to be helping, there are adjacent problems they’re not solving. Don’t be dazzled by stopgap technologies that don’t actually solve real problems.

Weak Ties Gone Wild

One of the since-faded early concerns of the internet was “information overload.” The worry was that given the onset of abundant connectivity and content, we were being inundated with so much information that we’d never be able to process it all. Now we limit the flow in our feeds and find just what we need. The real danger of filter bubbles and echo chambers is a cultivated myopia: a limited view of a world of sameness and an inability to see beyond the barriers we’ve erected for ourselves. As Jay Ogilvy once said, “If it’s not different, it’s not information.”

My rendition of “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Granovetter, (1973).

In the late 1960s, Mark Granovetter was studying how people found jobs. His 1973 article in the American Journal of Sociology, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” states that each person in a close social network is likely to have the same information as everyone else in that network. It’s the weak ties to other networks that lead to the new stuff. That is, weak ties are a more likely source of novel ideas and information—regarding jobs, mates, and other opportunities—than strong ones.

Granovetter says, “I put the theory of weak ties together from a number of things. I learned about hydrogen bonding in AP Chemistry in high school and that image always stuck with me—these weak hydrogen bonds were holding together huge molecules precisely because they were so weak. That was still in my head when I started thinking about networks.”

Like most of my research interests, I first noticed these thresholds in music. I was looking at the CDs I had on hand one day, and I noticed that most of my favorite bands didn’t fit into established genres. They tended to straddle the lines between genres. In nature, these interstitial spaces are called edge realms. In her book When Plants Dream (Watkins Media, 2019), Sophia Rokhlin describes them as follows:

The edge describes the place where two distinct ecosystems meet. These are places of tension and unfamiliarity, territories of confrontation, where different ecosystems overlap and merge. The edge is found where a grassland meets a forest, where oceans reach the shore, where wetlands mediate between river basins and fields. Edges are hot spots of biodiversity that invite innovation, intermingling, and new forms of cooperation from various species. Edge realms are thresholds of potential and fecundity.

Mutations inside Area X as seen in Alex Garland’s ‘Annihilation’ (2018).

An edge realm is a wilderness, a mutant space ripe for new forms. In Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, the mysterious Area X is just such a space. Its pollinations crossing well established boundaries, mixing into ever-new breeds and combinations. In his book about VanderMeer’s work, None of This is Normal (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), Ben Robertson writes,

Area X is something else, what has always already disrupted the processes by which by which borders are established between that and this, between one space or time and another space or time, between the human and whatever its other happens to be.

My pencil portrait of Brian Eno from ‘Follow for Now, Vol. 2’.

The fertile ground is in between the established crops of others. The new stuff happens at the edges, in between the codified categories. Any old boring story from history can be made more interesting by varying viewpoints. In his 1996 memoir, A Year with Swollen Appendices (faber & faber), Brian Eno proposes the idea of edge culture, which is based on the premise that

If you abandon the idea that culture has a single center, and imagine that there is instead a network of active nodes, which may or may not be included in a particular journey across the field, you also abandon the idea that those nodes have absolute value. Their value changes according to which story they’re included in, and how prominently.

Each of us tell our own stories, including the cultural artifacts relevant to the narrative we’ve chosen. The long tail is an ironic attempt to depict a big picture that no longer exists. With its emphasis on the individual narrative, edge culture more accurately illustrates the current, fragmented state of mediated culture, subcultures, and the way that edge realms and social networks define them.

My Sharpie sketch of a Boundary Object in use among 3 communities of practice.

The members and fans of subcultures—groups united by similar goals, practices, and vocabularies—represent what Etienne Wenger calls communities of practice. To translate differences and aid communication between these communities, they use what Susan Leigh Star and James Griesemer (1989) called boundary objects. A boundary object can be a word, concept, metaphor, allusion, artifact, map, or other node around which communities organize their overlaps and interconnections. These connective terms emphasize groups’ similarities rather than their differences. Boundary objects between different communities of practice open borders once inaccessible, circulating ideas into new territories.

Allusions, references, quotations, metaphors, and other figurative expressions provide the points at which multiple texts, genres, and groups connect and collaborate. They are where textual communities compare notes. “What I see instead of there being one line, many lines,” Eno explains in a lecture from 1992, “lots of ways of looking at this field of objects that we call culture. Lines that we may individually choose to change every day.” Hunting and gathering, picking and choosing, we can each make our own individual mongrel culture.

Mark Granovetter conceived the edge realms of these cultural networks way before we were all connected online, but his insight is all the more relevant today. With our personal media, ubiquitous screens, and invisible, wireless networks, we live in a world of weak ties. You just have to reach out to find the new stuff.


Brian Eno, A Year with Swollen Appendices, London: faber & faber, 1996, 328.
Brian Eno, “Perfume, Defense, and David Bowie’s Wedding,” in Christopher Scoates (ed.), Brian Eno: Visual Music (221-233), San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013, 223.
Mark S. Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78, No. 6 (May 1973), pp. 1360-1380.
Benjamin J. Robertson, None of This is Normal: The Fiction of Jeff VanderMeer, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2018, 116.
Sophia Rokhlin & Daniel Pinchbeck, When Plants Dream, London: Watkins Media, 2019, 32.
Susan Leigh Star & James R. Griesemer, “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39,” Social Studies of Science, Vol. 19, No. 3 (August 1989), pp. 387-420.
Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

The Pair I Wear

The first time I got to hang out with the Big Kids, the runt of their already established clique stuck with me. He wasn’t the Cool One. Everyone else was making fun of him, but I was unimpressed by them. First of all, he had a skateboard. To me in the eighth grade, there was little else that was cooler than a skateboard. He had longish hair, a baseball cap, a short-sleeve button-up shirt unbuttoned over a t-shirt, board shorts, and teal Chuck Taylors with band names written all over them. Chuck Taylors are the link between punk-rock and skateboarding. You can’t skate in Doc Martins, but you can mosh in Chucks.

Now, I’d had Chucks before, but the audacity of personalizing them hadn’t occurred to me. Soon, I sprayed my red pair with bleach, leaving a yellow splatter pattern. I added yellow laces to set them off. I took a Sharpie to another pair, and added black laces to match my doodles of zine logos.

Recently, my sister found me a new yellow pair at a thrift store, and I immediately thought of that guy from eighth grade with his crude band-name scribbles.

I took mine a step further by trying to draw the band logos as accurately as possible.

Bands represented include Fugazi, Bad Brains, Unwound, Germs, Circle Jerks, Hüsker Dü, Naked Raygun, 7Seconds, Minor Threat, and Big Black.

Still banned in DC.
Out of Step with the world.

I can only hope I made the bands proud. Impressing the Big Kids is always a lost cause.

First Friday Art Crawl

I have a collection of illustrations and logo designs up for the month of January at Reset Mercantile in Dothan, Alabama. This footage was shot on January 6, 2023 by Ryan Mills for Big as Life Media.

Some of these pieces are also available on Behance, but here are shots from the show.

And on the opposite wall…

Reset Mercantile is located at 2407 Montgomery Highway in Dothan, Alabama. The First Friday Art Crawl is January 6th, from 5-8pm, but my drawings are up until the end of the month, so come through if you’re in the area.

Thanks to Justin April at Reset, Ryan at Big as Life, Mike Nagy, and everyone else for coming out.

The Wiregrass Local Podcast

This week I was a guest on The Wiregrass Local podcast with my dude Justin April. We talked about making zines, working on magazines, drawing logos, writing books, and other things we both learned growing up in skateboarding culture.


As mentioned in the podcast, for the month of January, I have a small collection of drawings and designs hanging at Reset Mercantile in Dothan, Alabama. The opening is this Friday, January 6th, from 5-8pm, during Dothan’s First Friday Art Crawl. Some of my pieces are portraits from Follow for Now, Vol. 2, some are pieces from Boogie Down Predictions, some are solicited and unsolicited illustrations and logos, and some are just random scribbles from the past few years. I’ve posted examples of my work on Behance.

Reset Mercantile is located at 2407 Montgomery Highway in Dothan, Alabama. The First Friday Art Crawl is January 6th, from 5-8pm, but my drawings are up until the end of the month, so come through if you’re in the area.

Many thanks to Justin April at Reset and The Wiregrass Local for the opportunity, and everyone who’s come by to see my stuff.


The Medium Picture Object: A Photo Essay

Released in 1979, Douglas Hofstadter’s first book, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, is an expansive volume that explores how living things come to be from nonliving things. It’s about self-reference and emergence and creation and lots of other things. It’s well worth checking out.

For the cover of his heady tome, Hofstadter carved two wood-block objects such that their shadows would cast the book’s initials when lit against a flat backdrop. He went the extra step of working in the initials for the subtitle as well.

Earlier this year, I was inspired to emulate Hofstadter’s sculpture. I found a way to put the initials for my media-theory book-in-progress, The Medium Picture—TMPinto a similar configuration. This is one of my early sketches.

The sketches I did at least made the thing appear possible, so I started exploring physical options. After trying different materials and digging around craft stores, I finally found some letters that were about the right shape and would save me a lot of time toward the final object.

I was fortunate to find letters with similar proportions to the ones I’d been drawing. The first thing was to cut the M to make the P the top of the T. Like so:


After some papier-mâché tweaking, calk to round the leg of the M, and a coat of white paint, the object was ready to test.


Now that it physically existed, I knew the real test would be hanging it, lighting it, and capturing its shadows correctly. I built a contraption for just that out of things found around my parents’ house.

It was as sketchy as it looks. The object was suspended with two pieces of fishing line, and I had to turn off the air conditioning to get the thing to hang still for the picture. I found some pieces of foamcore in my sister’s old closet for the backdrop and gathered up tiny flashlights from all over the house.

With the LED flashlights propped and taped in place, this is the final set-up.

And this is the final shot. It’s not quite as intricate or as elegant as Hofstadter’s, but I’m pretty stoked on it. I think it will make a striking cover image and a fitting tribute to his work.

I belabored this process here because about half the people who see the final image ask me what software I used to make it. I know this could’ve been done digitally in any 3-D imaging suite, but I wanted to make it for real, just as Douglas Hofstadter had done.